History Book Review Guidelines

History Book Review Guidelines
Ideally, reviews provide summary, assessment, and criticism of the book under review.
So consider the following when constructing your review. Also, divide your review into
the categories outlined below (Theme and Scope, Organization and Arguments, Sources,
Value/Final Analysis). Use these category headings to allow for a more organized and
easy-to-read review.
Theme and Scope
Briefly introduce the book. Make sure you don’t get bogged down in facts and minute
details. Instead, focus on the big picture. Every book has a purpose. Ask yourself: what is
the purpose of this book? Why would this author write a whole book on this subject? The
preface and introduction often provide answers to these questions (so don’t skip the pages
with roman numerals).
If you have an idea about how this book fits into the historiography, explain that in your
introduction. To this end ask yourself questions like:
 When was this book written? What big events may have shaped the author’s
 How do class, ethnicity and gender play in this analysis?
 Does the author reference works by other historians?
 If so, how?
Looking at occasional footnotes is often quite helpful in determining these things and just
gaining a more thorough understanding of the subject matter.
Organization and Arguments
These elements should go hand in hand. Understand one and you usually understand the
other because historians often develop their arguments in sequence. So note how the
different elements of the book build upon one another. Don’t just summarize the
contents. Explain how the author arranged the contents.
Most history books are arranged in one of three ways: 1) chronologically 2) thematically
3) contextual preface and argumentative main body. When considering the organization,
ask yourself: why did the author choose this form of organization?
This is the toughest element to deal with because you probably have not read that many
books of this type. Importantly, this does not disqualify you from making an insightful
For instance, if you read carefully and pay attention to footnotes you can tell if the book
is based on secondary or primary sources. You can also tell if the author relies on some
sources more than others. Finally, you can determine if the author makes any unfounded
Value/Final Analysis
Your responsibility is to create an evenhanded and honest critique. A good review shows
the strengths and weaknesses of the book, and evaluates its effectiveness in reaching the
author’s stated goals.
When making your final analysis, consider the question of audience. For a scholarly book
review, your reader is going to be a professional historian, a history student, or a history
buff. These people do not need a general background, but they probably need a brief and
specific context in which to place the book.
Scholarly book reviews have a distinct format. They have no cover page. They have no
footnotes or bibliography. As a matter of fact, all of the information about the book
should be placed at the top of the review just below your standard assignment heading.
Standard Assignment Heading:
a. Location: top right-hand corner
b. Information:
-first name, last name
-course (A.P. U.S. History)
-assignment title
-due date
1. The header of the review consists of the title of the book, followed by the author's
name, then by the publication information (place, name of press, date), and concluding
with the elements of the book (presence of maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index,
and the number of pages).
My Reign as Supreme Emperor of the Universe: A Modest Retrospective. By Eric
Cartman. South Park, Colo.: Big Gay Al Press, 2002. Maps, tables, illus., biblio.,
index. Pp. xv, 224.
2. The body of each paragraph should be single-spaced and double-spacing should exist
between paragraphs and sections.
3. The first page should not be numbered, but subsequent pages should.